The Yellow Wallpaper

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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I first read this horrific tale when I was in high school. It is just as horrific, maybe even more so, this time around. A young woman, newly married, is labeled ‘nervous’ by her loving husband. Denied all stimulation, especially writing or visitors, she gradually sinks into madness. Distracted by the unattractive wallpaper in her bedroom, she starts to see patterns and women in the design. Finally, she becomes completely fixated on the wallpaper, to the point where she smells and tastes it continually.

The horror is not from the wallpaper but the way she is treated by a loving husband who has complete power over her. He doesn’t listen to her telling him she needs stimulation, but insists on depriving her intellectually. I surprised, actually, that he doesn’t turn to drugs to control her.

I remember what a powerful impact this story made on me as a young woman. I’m sure it contributed to my determination never to put my happiness completely in the hands of another person.

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